Romanians arrive - minus their star winger

A small but boisterous group of supporters greeted the Romanian Rugby World Cup players when they touched down in Christchurch.

The Romanian team, which will initially be based in Ashburton, is the only side to be welcomed in Christchurch after the earthquakes removed World Cup games from the city.

They will travel to Palmerston North later this month and be based in the city for a few days around their pool match against Georgia at FMG Stadium on September 28.

Dozens of expatriates went to Christchurch International Airport to usher the players into the country yesterday.

The reception committee of Ngai Tahu elder Rik Tau, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay drew polite applause before a rousing haka by 50 school children filled the airport.

Romanian rugby president Alin Petrache said the welcome was "an honour".

"The trip was a long one but it was quick because we are so excited to come here and meet you people.

"There were a lot of Romanian people here waiting for us, so it was good for us."

The squad was one player short after star winger Catalin Fercu pulled out of the tournament as the team left Romania – overcome by his fear of flying and the long-haul trip ahead.

Captain Marius Tincu said the squad was not pleased by his withdrawal.

"Everyone is not happy with that because he did not come to speak with us. I don't know what he's thinking. It's very stupid," he said.

"I don't know what to say. He has gone two times to Africa and one time to Argentina. It was no problem."

Replacement wing Adrian Apostol, 21, is on his way to New Zealand and is expected to join the squad by tomorrow.

Both captain and president pointed to the match against Georgia in Palmerston North on September 28 as a must-win.

"We have to win against Georgia and show that we have good rugby," Petrache said."Scotland is a tough game, England also and Argentina, so I think we have a very tough group."

The team will be based in Ashburton until Wednesday before heading to Invercargill for its first match against Scotland.

Expatriate Florin Orlandea said it was "unbelievable" to see the team in New Zealand.

"It's fantastic. We're very proud to have them here in the country we are settled in now," he said.

"I think they're going to do quite well this year. They've won a game at every World Cup, so they might win a couple this time and maybe even qualify for the quarterfinals. You never know."

Argentina's Pumas, who also play in Palmerston North, were welcomed at Dunedin Airport last night.

They will spend the next few days training in the city before their first match against England on September 10.

Manawatu Standard